St. Patrick's parade brings out Baltimore's Irish spirit

At least 24,000 participated in or watched annual march

March 13, 2011|By Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun

A gust of wind, mischievous as a leprechaun, blew 3-year-old Faith Rose's shiny green bowler hat into the middle of Charles Street on Sunday during the start of the 56th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Faith let out a shriek and a tear rolled down her cheek as her derby tumbled near the feet of the smartly stepping Broesler School of Irish Dancers, who were performing in the intersection at Monument Street. Three passersby gave chase, including a Baltimore police officer, who retrieved the hat and presented it intact to the little girl's parents, Adam and Holly Rose of Pasadena.

And just like the proverbial rainbow, a smile broke out on Faith's face.

"See?" Adam Rose said, kissing his daughter's cheek. "It's good as new."

With the possible exception of the Fourth of July fireworks, there is perhaps no better opportunity for experiencing old-fashioned Baltimore communal spirit then at a parade, and the annual St. Patrick's Day float-fest is the largest such event in the state of Maryland.

This year, more than 105 marching bands, flag corps, bagpipe brigades, beauty queens, dancing troupes, antique fire trucks, Irish Wolfhounds and their owners and gaily festooned floats spread along the parade route. Marchers began at the Washington Monument, wound past a reviewing stand at Pratt and Light Streets, and ended at Market Place.

The day was sunny and clear, with temperatures comfortably in the mid-50s. All told, at least 24,000 people participated in some way in Sunday's event.

Ann McDowell, a member of the parade's board of directors, estimated that about 2,000 people marched or rode in the parade itself and 4,600 participated in the preceding Shamrock 5K run. An additional 18,000 to 20,000 observers lined the parade route, according to Baltimore Police Dept. Lt. Dennis Reinhard —about 20 percent more than the crowd attending last year's event.

People came with the expectation of having a good time, and were ready to cheer anyone and everyone, including politicians. (Notables along the route included Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes.) Strangers struck up conversations with strangers. A grown man suddenly ran into the middle of Monument Street and executed a perfect cartwheel.

Five-year-old Molly Sullivan of Severna Park looked up at her mother and asked, "Do they really do this every March?"

A poignant note was struck by the World Remembrance Flag, which was suspended from two fire department ladders at the intersection of Charles and Pratt Streets. The flag, which was brought to Baltimore by three New York firefighters who survived the collapse of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, contains the names of rescue personnel who perished during the terrorist attacks.

A unit representing the Teelin School of Irish Dance was a crowd favorite. Twenty teenage girls arrayed in scarlet and black dance garb executed treble reels while standing on the bed of a flatbed truck. The girls' legs were a blur, their upper bodies were appropriately poker stiff, and the wooden boards magnified the sounds of their clogs.

Meredith Miller, 15, of Catonsville allowed that dancing on a truck isn't as easy as it looks. Climbing hills, she said, can be tricky. As if to prove her point, the truck, which had been stopped, suddenly accelerated, sending a line of squealing teens sliding into one another.

Nor was all the creativity confined to the parade participants.

At the reviewing stand, master of ceremonies Dominic Murray entertained the crowd for two hours with non-stop patter. He performed admirably, delivering a eulogy on a recently deceased stalwart of the Irish community, and providing background on every unit that passed by.

But at one point, the parade ground to a temporary halt to let traffic pass. The pavement directly in front of the seated dignitaries remained empty for several long minutes. Murray talked for as long as he could manage, until finally, he'd had enough.

"At the moment," Murray told the crowd, "there is absolutely nothing going on."

As might be expected, the St. Patrick's Day parade was a sea of green. There were green feathered headbands, yards of green beads, an arch over Charles Street of green and white balloons, and little girls wearing green fright wigs. One boy even claimed to have seen a dog with its fur shampooed green.

That's curious, because green is entirely absent from Ireland's earliest flag, which had a harp atop a blue background.

But Maggie Possidente, 8, of Reisterstown readily came up with an explanation.

"One day, St. Patrick gave a speech about the Holy Trinity, and he used a shamrock to explain it," she said, referring to one of the principal tenets of the Roman Catholic religion. 'That's why Irish people like green."

Her interrogator said that was a good guess.

"It's not a guess," Maggie said with complete conviction. "My mother told me."

mary.mccauley@baltimoresun.com

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